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Dear Old Duke

Recent events have put Duke’s alcohol policy in the spotlight. Numerous incidents that have taken place at off-campus parties as well as the rising animosity felt by Trinity Park residents towards the growing mass of inebriated students frequenting their neighborhood are raising significant questions about changes in the administration’s treatment of alcohol consumption.

These changes include the arrival of the Residence Coordinators in 2001 and the increasing propensity of the University to break up on-campus parties and punish students for underage consumption. They are almost singly responsible for the recent migration of many large-scale parties off-campus, causing significant consequences for students, our neighbors off of East campus, and the culture of the University as a whole. The alcohol policy itself is aimed largely at stemming underage consumption. However, contrary to the insistence of most parents, police, and Duke administrators, underage drinking is not the inherently evil “crime” that it is often made out to be. The United States is currently the only nation in the world with a drinking age of 21, and that age was only instituted within the past 20 years.

Thanks to the efforts of Ronald Reagan and the overzealous Mothers Against Drunk Driving, among others, we live in a country where 18 year-olds can vote and be drafted, yet cannot legally drink. And surprise, surprise, the national explosion of binge-drinking at college campuses occurred almost directly after the enactment of the national 21 drinking age.

As a result of this inherently counterproductive and unjust law, coupled with similarly counterproductive University policies, students are only changing where and how they drink. Laws and University policies have forced students to migrate away from a controlled on-campus party scene to dangerous and uncontrollable locations off-campus, but have done nothing to stem consumption; now, alcohol is simply the “forbidden fruit.”

Consequently, Duke is faced with several very important questions: Would it rather for students to party on Buchanan, or in Wannamaker? Would it rather students to be under the watchful eyes of EMTs and friends who can offer assistance, or under the watchful eyes of peeping busboys at Parizade?

As a private university, Duke is not charged with enforcing either federal or state law. Although Duke could refer every underage student caught drinking to the police, it could also do nothing at all—and for the most part, it does not involve the police in instances of underage drinking or drug use. Duke is obliged, however, to ensure the safety of the student body.

It is clear that encouraging students to go (and potentially drive) off-campus into less safe and less controlled environments is not fulfilling that obligation. The policies and their effects all point to one conclusion—that Duke is less concerned with underage alcohol consumption and with student safety than it is with its own image. Duke has policies on the books and institutions in place to “deal” with alcohol abuse and stem parties on-campus, but those policies do very little to actually improve student safety.

It’s quite likely that the “free-for-all” parties from the 1980s and 1990s were somewhat extreme, but it is doubtful that anything ever approached the level of baby-oil wrestling in a packed off-campus basement. Ironically, in its attempt to clean up Duke’s image, the actions of the administration have generated an environment that produces such sensational situations that catch national attention.

Therefore, I appeal to all of the alumni who experienced “Dear Old Duke”—The Duke that existed before the administration cared about underage consumption—to try and bring back an integral aspect of Duke’s culture. You survived, and so will we. Yes, we could have another Raheem Bath, but conditions are now as ripe as they have ever been for a student to be seriously injured or killed.

No new law or administrative action could ever significantly curb alcohol consumption by students; it is, however, up to the administration what kind of environment in which that drinking takes place—a safe, on-campus environment, or an unsafe, off-campus environment. So I ask again, are we concerned with our safety, or with our image? Do we embrace our culture and the will of students, or do we simply dump them in our neighbors’ yards?

Elliott Wolf is a Pratt freshman. His column appears every other Tuesday.

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